Autobiography of James Tilbury (1881-1972)

1910.   In 1910, when my wife and I moved to London a few months after we wore married, and while ve were deciding whore to live, the Honourable Richard Strutt, brother of Lord Rayleigh, invited us to stay at his palatial home on the Thames Embankment for a few days. Supplying and training the choir of St.John's P.E.Churoh, Wilton rd, S.W., was one of his hobbies and, before I had gone to China in 1906, I had sung bass there.  His boys were said to be as good as those of St. Paul's.  He was an excellent musician and always had an extremely good organist.  Because at that time I lived on the North side of London and so had quite a long way to come to the Sunday services he used to take me to his home every Sunday for lunch, after morning service and the company at those meals was always most interesting.  After lunch, when there was company, we usually went into a large hall-like room in which was an organ and a piano.  Alongside the fire, and just over the right of the mantelpiece was a picture on a hinge, of a monk's head and shoulders, copied from a sign over a Contin­ental convent door.  The monk had his mouth covered by two fingers to indicate that once inside the doors no one was allowed to speak.  It came forcibly to my notice when, one day, two ladies were sitting on the lounge, others in chairs here and there.  Mr Strutt was playing beautifully on his organ while they ‑ the two ladies – persisted in talking.  Presently Mr Strutt stopped playing and quietly walked over to the picture and swung it around so that it faced us all.  I believe moot of us thought they deserved the humiliation they had brought upon themselves by their rudeness.

Mr Strutt was a wonderful man and all of us respected and liked him immensely.  On the service papers, always to be found in the church seats on Sundays, was a line which he had had inserted, and which read “The Congregation is invited to join SILENTLY in the singing of the hymns".  We were well paid for our singing in the choir and he wasn’t going to have the music spoiled by un­tutored singing elsewhere. (The capitals for"silently" are mine.)

When staying at Mr Strutt's home I noticed a tiny brass nameplate on the door of our bathroom and on it "MOAB", which my wife and I thought very funny.
The sentence in the bible is "Moab is my washpot, over Edom will I cast out my shoe". I asked Mr Strutt if he had labelled the roof "EDOM", or didn’t he have cats in the neighbourhood.

1912.  When living at the "Earlscourt" Guest House I went around the House and grounds every night to see if everything was right, doors looked eto,etc. I always carried a gun in my pocket "just in case". One night I noticed the basement door was open and, going inside, I found a rather tough looking fellow of about 35 standing inside. I was glad I had my gun when I sharply told him to get out. Whether he suspected the gun or not I don’t know, but he didn’t waste any time in departing.
Not very long afterwards there was a loud knock on our bedroom door and I was asked by our nurse to come at once as there was a burglar in the maids' room.  Again I was glad to have my gun handy and as fast as possible I pulled on my trousers and rushed upstairs.  I got there just as he had gone through the window.  Ho had been frightened off before he had had time to do anything.

1920.   In 1920 I was once again awakened by the word "burglar".  We were living in a very large house in Brookline, Boston.  We slept on the first floor above the ground floor.  My wife and I in one bedroom, the three girls in a large communicating bedroom.  Along the passage, past the head of the wide, old­ fashioned stairway, was the bathroom.  On the wall immediately outside of the rooms, was the gas light which we always kept on all night.  At about two in the morning my wife returning from the bathroom, rushed into the bedroom, immediately locked the door and told me there was a burglar coming up the stairs.  I hopped out of bed at once and once more was mighty glad to be able to slip a gun into my pocket.  After locking the bedroom door behind me and not hearing a sound or seeing anything suspicious I went cautiously downstairs where I soon found that no window or door was open and, after searching the basement furnace room, I came up convinced that if anyone was in the house he must have entered by an upstairs window and be still up there.  I was glad my wife and the girls were protected by the looked bedroom door.  As I was passing the bathroom I heard a distinct rustling noise coming from the far bedroom but there was no one there when I reached it.  I was going towards the closet to searoh that when I heard the same noise again. The window had been left open and the noise was the result of the wind blowing the window shade up and down.  Going back to report to my wife, I saw something which explained everything.  At each turn of the wide stairway there was a handsome oaken post upon which rested a large wooden ball.  As one was about to turn to walk up the last flight of five stairs to reach our floor, the shadow of ones head would show on the wall when the gas was alight.  When no person was there it was the shadow of the round ball on the wall which gave the appearance of someone's head and un­doubtedly that is what my wife had seen.

1923.  age, nearly 43.  At this time, I was choirmaster at Trinity Memorial P. E. Church in Ambler, Pa.  In the summer, the rector told me he intended to visit Moscow, Russia, on his vacation.  And he told me confidentially that he felt sure he could not possibly get back by the first Sunday in September, when he was due.  He said that if he was going to be late. he would telegraph the vestry, and, if I was willing, would say that I would take care of the entire service.  I have to read the prayers and both lessons, but what about the usual sermon.  He said, “If you think you can do that, I wish you would”.  I felt that was a real challenge, and at once agreed to do everything necessary, including the sermon.  I spent hours after the telegram arrived, figuring out what I should say in my sermon.  But finally I had it all written about and delivered it from the Lectern, not the pulpit, which I understood is not permissible what the layman.  Apparently, everything went off well and I was told, although I didn't get it direct, that the gentlemen of the vestry were quite satisfied, and certainly the Retor was when he heard about it upon his return a few days later.

1924. Age 43.  Some time before arriving at Cairo in February King Tutankhamen’s  tomb had been discovered.  I was out with the others at the Tombs of the Kings, who which was a 7 mile donkey ride from the opposite side of the river from the hotel at which we stayed.  We went alongside Tut’s Tomb but no one was allowed inside.  In the Cairo Museum. however, we saw the most marvellous things.  For instance, King Tut's sarcophagus and 600 pounds of solid gold!  Also, his chariot and many other things I haven't space to mention.  It was vastly interesting.  

1928 – 45.  It might be of interest to mention, in connection with my 17 years of service as choirmaster etc. at St  Mark's, P. E. Church, Frankford, Philadelphia, that I was never late or absent from a service, and only absent twice for the first 10 minutes or so from a choir practice and in both cases it was due to car trouble.  My last organist was never late or absent from service or practice during the entire 10 years she was with me there.


[1] Source David Tilbury, Oregon


  • April Boothe 2 years ago

    Thank you so much for posting this autobiography of my great grandfather, James Tilbury (1881-1972)! My dad told me many of these amazing stories about his grandfather over the years. It was such a blessing to find them here, print them out & share them with my dad who is now 76. I have one picture of myself as an infant with my great grandfather. My dad (James Tilbury Nutter of Connecticut/Texas)has even more info on the family, but alas, he is not a big fan of modern technology.

    • linden 2 years ago

      My pleasure April, glad it's been useful. Perhaps you could digitise all your father's gems of information? Cheers, Linden

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